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Americans lack nutrients because of poor eating choices (Opinion)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by: Helmut Beierbeck
Tags: Americans, eating habits, health news

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(NewsTarget) Do we really need nutritional supplements? Why couldn`t we get all the nutrients we need from a "balanced diet"? We probably could - if we ate right. But how many people eat right? Apparently not too many. For example, there is a big gap between what Americans eat and the dietary recommendations outlined in Healthy People 2010. And things aren`t much better in other industrialized countries.

Healthy People 2010 recommends at least two daily servings of fruit, three servings of vegetables (a third of which should be dark green or orange), and six servings of grains (three of which should be whole grains). How closely did Americans follow this advice? National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) results showed (1) that in 2003 - 2004:
  • only 40% of children and adults ate the recommended 2 servings of fruits per day
  • only 7% of children and 11% of adults ate the recommended number of dark green or orange vegetables
  • 54% of those surveyed ate the recommended number of servings of grains, but only 3% had 3 or more servings of whole grains

As scientists at the U.S. National Cancer Institute put it, "These findings add another piece to the rather disturbing picture that is emerging of a nation's diet in crisis" (2).

State-run dietary surveys gave similarly dismal results (3). The 2007 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (adults) and the Youth Risk Factor Surveillance System (grades 9 - 12) showed that:
  • only 32.8% of adults and 32.2% of adolescents ate 2 or more fruits per day
  • only 27.4% of adults and 13.2% of adolescents ate 3 or more vegetables
  • only 14.0% of adults and 9.5% of adolescents ate both 2 or more fruits and 3 or more vegetables per day

Things hadn`t improved two years later. The 2009 surveys found that still only 32.5% of adults consumed 2 or more servings of fruits and only 26.3% of adults had 3 or more servings of vegetables per day (4).

Are the dietary recommendations set out in Healthy People 2010 too difficult to live up to? If anything, they may not go far enough; the food pyramid developed by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health places even greater emphasis on eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (5).

The Harvard Food Pyramid was developed in response to the undue influence that the powerful food industry lobby exerts on government-issued dietary guidelines. The Harvard scheme doesn`t recommend serving sizes - it simply ranks different food groups according to their known health benefits. The pyramid consists of four layers which contain, from top (least healthy) to bottom (healthiest):
  • butter, red and processed meat, refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks and sweets
  • dairy products
  • nuts, seeds and tofu, and fish, poultry and eggs
  • fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and oils

Of course, food pyramids aren't just about micronutrients, but the failure to consume enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a clear indication that most of us don't get enough vitamins and minerals from our diets. The authors of the Harvard Food Pyramid in fact acknowledge this and recommend a daily vitamin/mineral supplement for most people (5).


  1. Healthy People 2010, Progress review - Nutrition and overweight
    presentation, 2008.

  2. Krebs-Smith SM, Guenther PM, Subar AF et al, Americans do not meet federal dietary
    recommendations, J Nutr 2010;140(10):1832-1838.

  3. CDC State indicator report on fruits and vegetables, 2009.

  4. State-specific trends in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults - United States, 2000 - 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010;59(35):1125-1130.

  5. Food pyramids: What should you really eat?

About the author

Helmut Beierbeck has a science background and a strong interest in all scientific aspects of health, nutrition, medicine, weight loss, or any other topic related to wellness. You can follow his ruminations on his blog http://healthcomments.info and leave comments on this or any other health-related topic.

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